I’m still working my way through The Steal Like an Artist Journal. The last post I made about it was profoundly appreciative of tens of friends. This one’s only going to be revealing – about my only real fear. There’s a page in the Journal which asks you to write down your fears then cross them out as if slaying a dragon with a sword. I’ve only got the one fear and there’s no badass red Sharpie which can slay it. That fear is that I’ll end up like my father. Having lived a long, ambitious, fruitful, balanced life – and unable to remember anything other than that those people I lived it for should feel more gratitude towards me for having lived it.
Most of the time, this isn’t on my mind but it pops up now and again. A few months ago, I was at a client dinner with some colleagues. I’ve got a fairly impressive memory which ranges from recent events to who sang what 80’s song. Not everything is worth filing away, but what I do sticks. When one of my co-workers said she had an eidetic memory, I asked her a few questions and she was truly like Google. Her recall was instantaneous – but there was also a bit of abstraction from everyday life to it. At some point, I must have mentioned that my dad has dementia and she immediately identified my fear. She nailed it: That I’d end up like him. Maybe it was the gin she was drinking.
At its heart, this is legit. There’s no cure and no stopping dementia. A diagnosis means nothing other than that you’re on a path. I’ve got an uncle who lived a life smoking, out of shape, and eating what he pleased. He’s reaching a point where how he’s lived has caught up with him. He also happens to have been my father’s best friend growing up. He met his wife – my mother’s sister – at my parents’ wedding. And my father, who lived his life staying fit, now has the curse of being in good shape with no real health issues beyond the obvious. He stares at me with unrecognizing eyes when I bring up my uncle, his lifelong friend. He’s doomed to live the rest of his life without understanding it. The only horror I can imagine being worse is Lou Gehrig’s Disease which is the exact opposite.
Many of us live with a fear like this. I know people who have lost loved ones to cancer at early ages. I’ve got friends who battle depression while knowing that the world can barely understand their demons, much less truly join the fight against them. I imagine them reading this at home on their own and copy/pasting their own unwritten fears over my own
In the face of this, I say: fuck failure. Fuck the possibility of underachieving, the possibility of future illness, or a lack of connection. What we do today may be forgotten – even by us. But that shouldn’t drive us or hold us back. Rather, what we do should be in defiance of that fear. Maybe that helps us face the fear. Maybe it fools us into believing that we’re facing it while we push it to the back of our minds. But it shouldn’t rule our daily lives because that diminishes who we are and what our legacy should be.